Beth Fertig is WNYC’s Contributing Editor for Education. She previously covered politics, which included City Hall during the Giuliani administration, and the U.S. Senate campaigns of Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton. She also covered transportation and infrastructure.
State Senate Passes Bill to End Last in, First Out for Teachers
Tuesday, March 01, 2011
In a win for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Republican-led state senate narrowly approved a bill that would end seniority protections for teachers in New York City. But its fate in the Assembly is far less certain.
The bill would do away with the so-called "last in, first out" (LIFO) rule that requires new teachers to be the first to go during layoffs regardless of merit. Seniority could no longer be the sole criteria. Instead, the city could eliminate teachers with unsatisfactory ratings and other performance issues. Mayor Bloomberg plans to layoff more than 4,600 teachers to close a budget gap. Another 1,500 positions would be lost through attrition.
Republican Andrew Lanza of Staten Island expressed concerns about the legislation because he said experience should count for something during layoffs once bad teachers have been eliminated. "A good teacher who has been teaching for ten years is probably better than the good teacher who's been teaching for ten minutes," he said. "So I believe that LIFO does have a place in public service when it comes to our teachers. But not in as much as it protects bad teachers, so let's fix it. This does it."
Bloomberg called the bill "a landmark proposal that puts the needs of our children first."
But while the bill got a green light in the Senate, it received more of a yellow light in the Democrat-controlled Assembly. A spokeswoman for Speaker Sheldon Silver said he is looking to move toward a statewide system in which seniority isn't the only factor when making layoffs. She said the goal was to ensure "objectivity" in evaluating teachers.
Silver told reporters earlier in the day that the state is already using federal Race to the Top funds to come up with a new teacher evaluation system starting in September that will make it easier for all districts to keep good teachers and get rid of bad ones. This new system will include four ratings, ranging from ineffective to highly effective, instead of just satisfactory and unsatisfactory. And districts could use student test scores in part to determine which teachers are most effective.
"We're not ready to abandon that," said Silver. "We made a commitment to the federal government, give us money we will do this.'"
Minutes after the Senate passed the bill, which was sponsored by education committee chair John Flanagan of Suffolk, Governor Cuomo issued a statement saying he would submit a bill to expedite that new system for evaluating teachers. Instead of phasing it in gradually over two years, he said it would apply to all teachers in all subject areas starting in the 2011-2012 school year.
"By today's actions, both the State Senate and the Assembly have acknowledged that the state must move forward on improving performance in the classroom as well as improving teacher evaluations," read the governor's statement.
But Mayor Bloomberg said that's not fast enough. With layoffs planned before the start of the next school year, he said the governor needs to act now. One Manhattan Assembly Democrat, Jonathan Bing, said he would introduce his own Assembly version of Flanagan's Senate bill later this week.
The teachers union insists there's no need for any layoffs, however, because the city has a $3 billion surplus. The union claims the mayor is using a budget crisis to force through legislation that would weaken seniority protections and make it easier for principals to eliminate more senior, expensive teachers. The mayor has proposed layoffs in previous years but hasn't ever carried them out.
Mayor Bloomberg, though, says this time they're unavoidable. He says he's already dedicated the surplus to preventing deeper cuts to the schools, and to buffer the city from a projected $4.58 billion gap in the year ahead.
Before the Senate voted, several lawmakers noted the national climate facing labor unions. "We are not Wisconsin," said Westchester Democrat Suzi Oppenheimer, referring to the showdown in that state over ending collective bargaining. Oppenheimer opposed the bill.
Republican Lanza, who supported the bill, also called the current climate "breathtaking."
"Once upon a time, many of the people that I watch from back home on Staten Island -- who worked up here in Albany -- gave the unions more than they ever asked for. Now some of the same people complain that it was a bad deal.
As we went too far in one direction we can't go too far in the other direction."